José Tortolero, 28, was no wealthy kid growing up in Venezuela. No Nintendo and certainly no motorcycle, his heart's desire.
His mother died when he was 16, but the kind words she offered, the inoculation against bullies, never left him.
"With her love and kindness, her positive energy — I was a millionaire," he says.
All grown up now, a broker/coordinator in a Safety Harbor mortgage company, Tortolero never forgot how much difference that kind of caring can make.
Sickened by stories of children who killed themselves after being bullied, he jumped when a friend in London asked for his help with a novel idea.
What if we start a website devoted to sending out free messages of kindness and encouragement? she asked.
"I was like, hands down, I'm in!" said Tortolero, a Clearwater resident. "I love it!"
They decided to call the little messages sugar cubes, their website the Sugar Cube Factory.
"Why not create a platform where people with good intentions can go to spread love and kindness?" Tortolero asks.
Joined by another friend in London and one from Columbia, the young foursome set out to make it happen. They discovered a site called Kickstarter, established to allow fundraising for creative projects without risk for donors.
The sugar cubers set a goal of $4,000 to launch their site. People can promise $1 or more, and only if the goal is reached will donations be collected.
It's looking good. With the deadline six days away, 104 people have pledged $3,341.
If they meet the financial goals and get the website up and running, they will begin accepting positive messages of 300 characters or less. People who feel the need for encouragement can ask to receive one of them. No names or identifying characteristics will be shared, Tortolero stresses.
"There will never be a charge to send or receive a message, ever," he says. "And privacy is very important. We will screen for spam and links to other sites, and every message we receive will be read carefully."
After the site is established, the four plan to start targeting specific messages to types of problems. For example, if a teen is being bullied, a message might be sent from someone who was bullied but overcame it.
Tortolero says he and the others are finding their way as they go along. One debate involved religious messages.
"We don't want to offend someone who is from another religion," he says. The group decided not to send any religious messages until they are ready to screen for more specific requests. If someone wants to receive a Christian message, for example, the Sugar Cube Factory would like to be able to provide one.
Tortolero said he and his friends won't gain financially from the project. For him, it's about passing along the messages that helped sustain him when he lost his mother.
"I'm passionate about this," he says. "It's such a simple idea — as simple as making someone smile. But maybe it will make a real difference in the life of someone."
For information, go to www.sugarcubefactory.com.